Public invited to testify on accessory dwelling units

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The city is crafting policies on accessory dwelling units, which are small housing units associated with a main house. These could be attached to a house or a separate building in the backyard, or perhaps a bedroom added to an existing garage. Tacoma City Council heard an update on the process during the Feb. 12 study session.

Planning Manager Brian Boudet began by briefly discussing an infill pilot program conducted in 2016-17. Accessory dwelling units were one of several options explored in that process, and generated the most interest from residents.

Senior Planner Elliott Barnett said staff did five to six months of outreach, including attending Neighborhood Council meetings. Barnett said the size of the lot and the existing house would determine the maximum allowed size of an accessory unit. He noted that about 14-15 percent of houses in the city would not be allowed to be platted under current zoning laws. About 65 such units have been built in the city in the past five years, mostly attached.

Councilmember Robert Thoms said when he moved here 15 years ago, he considered the possibility of such a unit on his property as a future home for his parents. He said he is not convinced such units will meet the need for affordable housing. “If that is the train we are riding, the affordability train, we may miss the mark.”

Councilmember Catherine Ushka pondered whether such units would be allowed to become short-term rentals, as found on some travel websites. She also expressed concerns such units could be utilized in human trafficking.

Councilmember Chris Beale noted the Planning Commission held 13 meetings on this topic. “This has been thoroughly vetted.” He thinks more could be done regarding incentives to make such units affordable and to address utility hookups.

Councilmember Anders Ibsen mentioned the high cost of daycare, which can be on par with a monthly mortgage payment. He said some mothers of young children must weigh whether to stay home and watch them, or work and put them in daycare. A dwelling unit could be home to a grandparent who could watch the children and allow parents to work. “That is one very important choice we can help families in Tacoma make,” he observed.

Councilmember Keith Blocker said constituents have asked him if churches and non-profit organizations could have such units on their property. He also would like to see incentives for affordable housing.

The council will hold a public hearing on the topic during its Feb. 19 meeting.

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